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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Mar 31, 2021

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Despite increased focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs, hard labor is still a major driver of the national economy.

Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that employment for construction workers and hand laborers has grown faster than employment in STEM jobs over the past five years.

While STEM careers tend to command higher salaries, wage increases for careers in high paying manual labor jobs have also outpaced STEM. Wages for STEM careers grew at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent between 2013 and 2018, whereas wages for construction workers and hand laborers/movers grew by 2.9 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively.

Average employment and wage growth for STEM and labor jobs in the U.S.

While employment and wage growth might be strong, working in a physically demanding job can be both taxing and dangerous. Research from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows that out of 4,674 worker fatalities in private industry in 2017, more than 20 percent were in a construction field.

Additionally, a recent analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that while hand laborers/movers account for just 2 percent of total employment, they were responsible for 6 percent of days away from work due to occupational-related injury and illness in 2018.

To identify the most physically demanding jobs, researchers here at analyzed data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). We created an index to measure the overall level of physical demands for different jobs based on strength, stamina, coordination, and flexibility requirements.

The 5 million employees in the 20 most physically demanding jobs make up about 3.5 percent of the nation’s 145 million workers.

Construction laborers and hand laborers/movers account for approximately 80 percent of total employment among the 20 most physically demanding jobs.

While most of the physically demanding jobs are related to building and construction, others—such as dancers, athletes, and trainers—require intense fitness routines or athletic practice.

Keep reading to learn about the 20 most physically demanding jobs in the United States.

What Are the Most Physically Demanding Jobs?

Let’s take a close at the most physically demanding and hardest jobs in America.

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The 20 Most Physically Demanding Jobs

Industrial worker cutting through bricks. Professional brickmason using grinder at building houses

Alamy Stock Photo

#20 – Brickmasons and Blockmasons

  • Overall physical demand index: 57.7
  • Strength index: 88.7
  • Stamina index: N/A
  • Flexibility index: 76.6
  • Coordination index: 65.4
  • Total employment & projected growth: 63,930 (9.7%)
  • Mean annual wage: $54,430

Brickmasons and blockmasons are responsible for using materials such as brick, tile, and concrete to build or repair structures like walls, partitions, arches, and sewers.

More specifically, brickmasons and blockmasons must be able to handle and move heavy objects, employing physical abilities such as trunk strength and extent flexibility. The mean annual wage for brickmasons and blockmasons is slightly above the national average.

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Movers Working at Plant

Alamy Stock Photo

#19 – Hand Laborers and Material Movers

  • Overall physical demand index: 58.4
  • Strength index: 96.2
  • Stamina index: 76.6
  • Flexibility index: 60.7
  • Coordination index: N/A
  • Total employment & projected growth: 2,893,180 (4.9%)
  • Mean annual wage: $30,890

Hand laborers and material movers manually move materials such as freight, stock, or luggage from one location to another. They might also perform other general labor, and they often work in warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and retail operations.

With a total employment of 2,893,180 workers, hand laborers and material movers are the most common job on this list. They also have the lowest mean annual wage on this list, at $30,890.

Abstract natural stone masonry, wall made on rock stone, textured background

Alamy Stock Photo

#18 – Stonemasons

  • Overall physical demand index: 60.0
  • Strength index: 100.0
  • Stamina index: 76.6
  • Flexibility index: N/A
  • Coordination index: 63.5
  • Total employment & projected growth: 12,310 (9.0%)
  • Mean annual wage: $44,370

Stonemasons typically use stone materials and masonry techniques to build structures like piers, walls, walkways, curbstones, and floors. Stonemasons often use hand tools to shape, trim, or cut stone, as well as mix and pour grout.

Among all occupations on this list, stonemasons have the highest strength index due to the weight of the materials they must work with and move.

Workers laying bricks on construction site

Alamy Stock Photo

#17 – Construction Laborers

  • Overall physical demand index: 60.5
  • Strength index: 98.1
  • Stamina index: 88.7
  • Flexibility index: 55.1
  • Coordination index: N/A
  • Total employment & projected growth: 1,001,470 (10.5%)
  • Mean annual wage: $40,350

Construction labor is the second most common job on this list and total employment is projected to grow by more than 10 percent in the next decade. Compared to other occupations, construction work requires an incredible amount of both strength and stamina.

In addition to building, these laborers may also be involved in clearing debris from construction sites, digging trenches, and setting up scaffolding.

Firefighter running towards fire engine

Alamy Stock Photo

#16 – Firefighters

  • Overall physical demand index: 64.0
  • Strength index: 72.8
  • Stamina index: 96.2
  • Flexibility index: N/A
  • Coordination index: 86.9
  • Total employment & projected growth: 321,570 (5.3%)
  • Mean annual wage: $53,240

In addition to fire work and prevention, firefighters provide emergency medical services, search and rescue, disaster assistance, and hazardous material response.

Being a firefighter requires both strength and stamina, which is why it’s so common to see these workers exercising at the station when not responding to an emergency.

Roofer installing flashing on skylight

Alamy Stock Photo

#15 – Helpers and Roofers

  • Overall physical demand index: 64.9
  • Strength index: 98.1
  • Stamina index: N/A
  • Flexibility index: 67.2
  • Coordination index: 94.3
  • Total employment & projected growth: 8,630 (13.0%)
  • Mean annual wage: $31,740

While helpers generally assist roofers by using or holding materials and tools involved in building or repairing roofs, they are also responsible for cleanup on the job site.

Helpers to roofers require a high degree of strength and coordination because they generally work high above the ground and must keep their balance. This is one of the lowest-paid occupations on this list, but the projected growth is more than twice as much as the overall average of 5.2 percent.

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Row of scuba diving compressed air cylinders on a boat in Arraial do Cabo, Brazil.

Alamy Stock Photo

#14 – Commercial Divers

  • Overall physical demand index: 77.3
  • Strength index: 53.2
  • Stamina index: 76.6
  • Flexibility index: 92.5
  • Coordination index: 86.9
  • Total employment & projected growth: 3,380 (7.2%)
  • Mean annual wage: $59,470

Commercial divers inspect, repair, remove, or install equipment and structures within bodies of water. They might also conduct underwater tests or experiments, rig explosives, or take photographs.

The physical requirements of the job skew towards flexibility and coordination; divers must be able to swim and perform manual labor while underwater.

An garden worker using a power hedge trimmer to cut back a large overgrown bush.

Alamy Stock Photo

#13 – Tree Trimmers and Pruners

  • Overall physical demand index: 78.5
  • Strength index: 85.0
  • Stamina index: 76.6
  • Flexibility index: 74.7
  • Coordination index: 77.5
  • Total employment & projected growth: 42,440 (9.8%)
  • Mean annual wage: $40,510

Tree trimmers and pruners remove branches from trees and shrubs in order to maintain a clear path for roads, sidewalks, or utilities, or to improve the appearance of a landscape or neighborhood.

Strength is an essential skill for this job since it often involves climbing and working with heavy equipment. Coordination and balance are also critical for those working in high places.

Coal miner working in mine

Alamy Stock Photo

#12 – Roof Bolters and Mining

  • Overall physical demand index: 79.3
  • Strength index: 88.7
  • Stamina index: 76.6
  • Flexibility index: 74.7
  • Coordination index: 77.5
  • Total employment & projected growth: 3,250 (-9.7%)
  • Mean annual wage: $59,090

Roof bolters are responsible for operating machinery to install roof support bolts in underground mines. The installation process can involve drilling holes into the ground and breaking up rocks and concrete.

Even though roof bolters typically use machinery, they must still exert physical strength to perform their job duties. Although this is one of the highest-paid occupations on this list, employment is expected to decline by 2028.

Worker paste net for seams between drywall boards

Alamy Stock Photo

#11 – Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers

  • Overall physical demand index: 79.4
  • Strength index: 64.4
  • Stamina index: 76.6
  • Flexibility index: 85.9
  • Coordination index: 90.6
  • Total employment & projected growth: 101,900 (2.3%)
  • Mean annual wage: $49,170

Like many of the other jobs on this list, drywall and ceiling tile installers are heavily involved in construction. These workers apply materials such as plasterboard, wall boards, and tiles to ceilings or interior walls of buildings to improve aesthetics and reduce sound.

The demands of this physical job typically involve carrying and installing heavy materials and also maintaining balance while installing these materials at various heights.

Construction workers arranging rebar at construction site

Alamy Stock Photo

#10 – Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers

  • Overall physical demand index: 80.1
  • Strength index: 81.3
  • Stamina index: 88.7
  • Flexibility index: 72.8
  • Coordination index: 77.5
  • Total employment & projected growth: 18,360 (11.1%)
  • Mean annual wage: $54,670

Reinforcing iron and rebar workers are an integral part of many construction crews. These workers use tools such as fasteners, rod-bending machines, and blowtorches to secure reinforced steel bars (rebar) or wire mesh to the concrete used in constructing roads, buildings, and bridges.

The main physical demands of this job include carrying heavy equipment, standing for many hours at a time, and bending or stooping in order to install rebar.

Low angle view of dancers in dance studio practicing in front of mirror

Alamy Stock Photo

#9 – Choreographers

  • Overall physical demand index: 83.1
  • Strength index: 57.9
  • Stamina index: 97.1
  • Flexibility index: 78.5
  • Coordination index: 99.0
  • Total employment & projected growth: 5,090 (-2.8%)
  • Mean annual wage: $53,560

At $53,560 per year, choreographers earn slightly more than the national average across all occupations.

Choreographers must exercise high levels of stamina, coordination, and flexibility in order to lead rehearsals, create new dance routines, and demonstrate proper technique and form.

A close-up of a chainsaw being used to cut a blown down tree.

Alamy Stock Photo

#8 – Fallers

  • Overall physical demand index: 85.2
  • Strength index: 91.5
  • Stamina index: 93.4
  • Flexibility index: 65.4
  • Coordination index: 90.6
  • Total employment & projected growth: 4,680 (-18.0%)
  • Mean annual wage: $48,520

Fallers cut down trees, while ensuring that the direction of the tree’s fall minimizes any damage to people or objects around it. Since fallers rely on a variety of hand tools such as axes or chainsaws, they must be strong enough and have enough stamina to properly use them.

The job outlook for fallers is the worst on this list, with a projected 18 percent decline in employment over the next decade.

roofer laying tile on the roof.

Alamy Stock Photo

#7 – Roofers

  • Overall physical demand index: 86.9
  • Strength index: 88.7
  • Stamina index: 88.7
  • Flexibility index: 73.8
  • Coordination index: 96.2
  • Total employment & projected growth: 128,680 (11.8%)
  • Mean annual wage: $43,870

Roofers install shingles, slate, asphalt, aluminum, or wood on new or existing buildings. They may also bind, seal, insulate, or soundproof the roofs as well.

Coordination is particularly important for roofers, who must maintain their balance on top of ladders or buildings as they perform their work.

steel framed building buildings bolt bolts bolted together iron work ironworker site sites construction industry frame bolted to

Alamy Stock Photo

#6 – Structural Iron and Steel Workers

  • Overall physical demand index: 88.4
  • Strength index: 97.1
  • Stamina index: 76.6
  • Flexibility index: 85.9
  • Coordination index: 94.3
  • Total employment & projected growth: 77,410 (11.5%)
  • Mean annual wage: $58,170

Also known as iron workers, structural iron and steel workers raise and place iron or steel girders and columns in order to form structural frameworks for new buildings. These workers may also construct metal storage tanks or prefabricated metal buildings.

Welding metal components, operating machinery, and loading or unloading materials are some of the physical demands for this job, making strength and coordination especially important skills.

Personal trainer helps with gym equipment workout. Two attractive women training, building strength. Sport concept.

Alamy Stock Photo

#5 – Fitness Trainers and Aerobics Instructors

  • Overall physical demand index: 88.5
  • Strength index: 77.5
  • Stamina index: 98.1
  • Flexibility index: 80.3
  • Coordination index: 98.1
  • Total employment & projected growth: 308,470 (12.8%)
  • Mean annual wage: $44,580

Like choreographers, athletic trainers must also have high levels of stamina, coordination, and flexibility in order to lead workouts, design new exercise routines, and demonstrate proper technique and form.

It’s common for fitness trainers and aerobics instructions to teach multiple classes or clients in a day, further raising the physical demands required.

New manufactured home and stick built garage need finishing before owners can move in

Alamy Stock Photo

#4 – Manufactured Building and Mobile Home Installers

  • Overall physical demand index: 90.3
  • Strength index: 93.4
  • Stamina index: 88.7
  • Flexibility index: 85.9
  • Coordination index: 93.4
  • Total employment & projected growth: 2,920 (-11.4%)
  • Mean annual wage: $32,910

Since manufactured building and mobile home installers are constantly moving materials and using construction tools, strength, coordination, and stamina are the major physical abilities required for this job.

Manufactured building and mobile home installers have the lowest total employment on this list, at 2,920 workers, and employment is expected to decline even further by 2028.

African American football player.

Alamy Stock Photo

#3 – Athletes and Sports Competitors

  • Overall physical demand index: 90.4
  • Strength index: 95.3
  • Stamina index: 98.1
  • Flexibility index: 71.9
  • Coordination index: 96.2
  • Total employment & projected growth: 10,800 (6.2%)
  • Mean annual wage: $87,030

Despite low employment numbers, athletes and sports competitors are the highest-paid workers on this list, with a mean annual wage of $87,030.

Regardless of the sport, athletes are generally strong, coordinated, and in great aerobic shape. For most athletes, the competition itself is only a small part of the job; training and practice are where most of the work hours are put in.

A pumpjack at an oil drilling site at sunset.

Alamy Stock Photo

#2 – Derrick Operators, Oil and Gas

  • Overall physical demand index: 92.0
  • Strength index: 93.4
  • Stamina index: 88.7
  • Flexibility index: 93.4
  • Coordination index: 92.5
  • Total employment & projected growth: 11,310 (17.1%)
  • Mean annual wage: $47,630

At 17.1 percent, derrick operators have the highest projected growth of all occupations on this list. These workers rig derrick equipment and operate pumps to circulate mud or fluid through a drill hole, with the ultimate purpose of extracting oil and gas.

Flexibility, strength, and coordination are highly important to derrick operators, who use heavy machinery and handle heavy objects.

Woman in dance studio bending over sideways stretching

Alamy Stock Photo

#1 – Dancers

  • Overall physical demand index: 97.0
  • Strength index: 87.8
  • Stamina index: 100.0
  • Flexibility index: 100.0
  • Coordination index: 100.0
  • Total employment & projected growth: 9,720 (0.6%)
  • Mean annual wage: $43,056

Among all occupations on this list, dancers require the greatest amount of stamina, flexibility, and coordination.

Whether performing solo or as part of a group, dancers must maintain tight synchronization between the body’s movement and musical accompaniment, usually in a choreographed routine. Like athletes, professional dancers practice rigorously and maintain peak physical fitness.

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Data on physical demands of occupations for the U.S. were obtained from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

Wage statistics were obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics and employment statistics were obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections Program, with projections into 2028.

To identify the most physically demanding jobs, a composite score for each occupation was calculated based on the following data from O*NET: trunk strength, static strength, explosive strength, dynamic strength, stamina, gross body equilibrium, gross body coordination, extent flexibility, and dynamic flexibility.

Values for these measures were combined to result in four dimensions of physical demand: strength, stamina, flexibility, and coordination. Jobs were then ranked by their overall score.

In general, the most physically demanding jobs are lower-paying jobs.

More specifically, employees in the 20 most physically demanding jobs have an average wage of $36,926, which is significantly lower than the $51,960 annual mean wage for U.S. employees as a whole.

A few of the main outliers include athletes, commercial divers, and roof bolters (mining), which all have average wages more than 1.5 times the average wage of the 20 most physically demanding jobs.

Interestingly, none of these jobs require a college degree. In fact, only two occupations—firefighters and commercial divers—need an additional post-secondary certification or training program. Half of the most physically demanding jobs require a high school diploma or equivalent, and eight do not require any educational credentials at all.

While the job outlook for individual physically demanding jobs varies significantly, from -18 percent for fallers to 17.1 percent for derrick operators, these jobs overall are poised for growth by 2028.

Altogether, the 20 most physically demanding jobs are projected to grow at a rate of a little over 7 percent in the next ten years, which is higher than the projected growth of about 5 percent in the number of employees in the U.S. as a whole.

Chart Listing of All Study Results

OccupationRankIndex AvgStrength IndexStamina IndexFlexibility IndexCoordination IndexTotal EmploymentMean Annual WageTypical Education NeededJob Growth
Dancers197.087.80100.00100.00100.009,720$43,056No formal educational credential0.6%
Derrick Operators, Oil and Gas292.093.4088.7093.4092.5011,310$47,630No formal educational credential17.1%
Athletes and Sports Competitors390.495.3098.1071.9096.2010,800$87,030No formal educational credential6.2%
Manufactured Building and Mobile Home Installers490.393.4088.7085.9093.402,920$32,910High school diploma or equivalent-11.4%
Fitness Trainers and Aerobics Instructors588.577.5098.1080.3098.10308,470$44,580High school diploma or equivalent12.8%
Structural Iron and Steel Workers688.497.1076.6085.9094.3077,410$58,170High school diploma or equivalent11.5%
Roofers786.988.7088.7073.8096.20128,680$43,870No formal educational credential11.8%
Fallers885.291.5093.4065.4090.604,680$48,520High school diploma or equivalent-18.0%
Choreographers983.157.9097.1078.5099.005,090$53,560High school diploma or equivalent-2.8%
Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers1080.181.3088.7072.8077.5018,360$54,670High school diploma or equivalent11.1%
Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers1179.464.4076.6085.9090.60101,900$49,170No formal educational credential2.3%
Roof Bolters, Mining1279.388.7076.6074.7077.503,250$59,090High school diploma or equivalent-9.7%
Tree Trimmers and Pruners1378.585.0076.6074.7077.5042,440$40,510High school diploma or equivalent9.8%
Commercial Divers1477.353.2076.6092.5086.903,380$59,470Postsecondary nondegree award7.2%
Helpers--Roofers1564.998.10N/A67.2094.308,630$31,740No formal educational credential13.0%
Firefighters1664.072.8096.20N/A86.90321,570$53,240Postsecondary nondegree award5.3%
Construction Laborers1760.598.1088.7055.10N/A1,001,470$40,350No formal educational credential10.5%
Stonemasons1860.0100.0076.60N/A63.5012,310$44,370High school diploma or equivalent9.0%
Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand1958.496.2076.6060.70N/A2,893,180$30,890No formal educational credential4.9%
Brickmasons and Blockmasons2057.788.70N/A76.6065.4063,930$54,430High school diploma or equivalent9.7%
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